Willi Carlisle's folk music focuses on the folks in the shadows of the hills and hollers, or, as he calls it, “Critterland.”
That’s the title of his new album, a compelling follow-up to Carlisle’s 2022 breakout release, “Peculiar, Missouri.” Once again, populist parables are populated with colorful characters navigating the drama and trauma of life among the have-nots in ways that challenge simplistic assumptions about rural identity, bias and suffering.
“They think I’m a queer and a communist,” Carlisle’s protagonist in the title cut laments, his rifle ready for an apocalypse.
The Joplin, Missouri-based Carlisle uses his literary background to craft fluent lyrics that make for a wild ride across harsh land; there’s a reason he references all-terrain tires. Songs about addiction, suicide, daddy issues and a two-headed lamb find beauty and lessons in life and death outside the mainstream.
Producer Darrell Scott helps vary simple arrangements with a deft mix of guitar, banjo, harp, accordion and more. Carlisle’s wise, wry tenor and stories don’t need a lot of instrumental accompaniments. In fact, there’s none on the final cut, “The Money Grows on Trees.” A seven-minute saga of greed, corruption and the outlaw way, it’s the place where folk music and poetry meet.
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